When Composers Were Rockstars

I DJ’d a wedding yesterday at Serenbe, the same idyllic locale that my wife, Marta, and I became family in April of 2009. One of my favorite parts of selecting music for each event is assembling a pre-ceremony mix that gently and subconsciously prepares the room for several hours of celebration ahead.

Dustin O’Halloran, whose crushing “Opus 28” is streaming above and available below, makes it onto almost every mix I make, wedding-related or not. The simplicity of O’Halloran’s compositions are deceptive in the same way the best pop songs are belabored over far more feverishly than their effortless 4 chords might indicate. Too often we delineate pop and instrumental/classical music into two distinct critical and listening-habit camps. I suppose it’s all subjective, but for me “Opus 28” has the same lyrical quality of “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “I Will” by The Beatles.

This post was only intended for me to share a Dustin O’Halloran song with you, but my thoughts are swirling:

Perhaps the immediacy of our popular culture could benefit from a happier marriage between classically-influenced and pop music listening habits. We saw the makings of this when Explosions in the Sky began composing and licensing music for big budget film and American football commercials. I’ve often heard mainstream ‘bros’ refer to the live EITS experience as “spiritual” and “epic”; I can’t remember ever hearing anyone suggesting John Mayer or Lady Gaga delivered a parallel experience.

I’m happy for EITS and their unassuming monopoly in the moving sports ad compositions market (it’s possible “monopoly” is used incorrectly, as I’m not sure another indie band has been contracted for this type of work), however, there are too many talented modern classical/instrumental/”home listening” artists for our popular culture to overlook. If listeners turned more consistently to music that’s honest and experiential, which has the power to illicit and convey feelings deeper than “Tik Tok” and “Bad Romance,” — as of this writing, the current top two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 — isn’t it possible that our popular society could at least dream of escaping its current base state?

Anyone that knows me well knows that I harbor some egregious musical guilty pleasures; as a DJ and as someone who has a unique penchant for letting bad music put me over the top in public, I try to give popular music its fair shake, despite its unrelenting effort to encourage subservience to worse, “snob” angels. I’m not suggesting we burn our Ace of Base records for the perpetual chillout of heady classical/instrumental artists. I suppose I’m just making an argument for diversification — for critics, music fans and artists to move past Sigur Rós and EITS as our only accepted forms of popular “epic”-ness, to embrace the genre as an important cultural contribution that has potentially enormous emotive and behavioral influence. Despite most evidence to the contrary, I still believe in our society’s potential to honor class. What better time than now, when our country is in a period of relative rediscovery. Culture matters.

Dustin O’Halloran’s “Opus 28” (MP3) from Piano Solos Vol. 2 (Filter)

Bonus: Balmorhea’s “Coahuila” (MP3) from All is Wild, All is Silent (Western Vinyl)

(Photo credit: Flickr user madewith)